Paris born and bred Alex Virot is best known as a sports writer and broadcaster, active in this field from the 1930s to the 1950s, but he was a man of many parts, not least a passable artist and – while never married – a sexually active freethinker.

Virot fought in the First World War in the trenches and as a pilot. An amateur artist, actor, and silent movie star of minor repute, he trained with the prolific sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, who in turn was a student of Auguste Rodin and teacher of Giacometti and Henri Matisse. Working as an illustrator and caricaturist for numerous newspapers, Virot won a silver medal for a football sketch at the 1928 Olympics, in an era when the games rewarded artistic endeavour as well as sporting prowess.

As a journalist, Virot was best known for reporting the cycling Tour de France. The 22 Tours he covered were littered with landmarks – the Tour’s first remote outside radio broadcast made for Radio Cité in 1929; the first live recording from a mountain stage in 1932 atop the Col d’Aubisque; and in the same year the first recording made from the cockpit of a plane.

Cycling was by no means his only specialism; he also covered football, boxing, motorsports and skiing. His familiar voice announced the inaugural draw of France’s national lottery in 1934. As a respected war reporter, he capped his coverage of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia with an exclusive interview with King Haile Selassie, and months later reported on the Spanish Civil War. His crowning moment came in 1938 when covering the ski world championships in Switzerland. On hearing rumours of the German invasion of Austria, Virot caught the first train to Vienna from where he defied strict Nazi censorship to snare one of the biggest pre-War radio scoops: speaking down a telephone line in a bar, Virot dictated a live report on the invasion.

And his only known foray into erotic art in 1923? He was certainly interested in sex, and had the artistic training to match his fertile imagination. Shortly after World War I he started conducting an amorous liaison with Léontine Rachel, usually known as Alice, the high-society wife of a rich industrialist and close friend of Charles de Gaulle, Roger Olchanski. It was a marriage of convenience, and Alice would often stay with Virot in his chalet at Chamonix. When Alice fell pregnant she confided in her husband, who apparently accepted the situation, the son Daniel living happily as part of the family, with Virot as a frequent visitor. As Daniel’s daughter Sophie explained in a 2021 interview, ‘Alex was very attractive to women. Not only was he handsome, he had a free spirit that ensured he lived a very comfortable life. He never stood still, didn’t fear anything or anyone. He always lived with his luggage ready at home and a map of the train times in his pocket. He never married – he loved women far too much for that. In fact, he always told my father to avoid marriage and enjoy life.’

Alex Virot died in a motorcycle accident whilst broadcasting from the 1957 Tour de France. He was covering the Bastille Day stage from Barcelona in Spain to Aix-les-Thermes. Riding on a motorcycle with his driver, René Wagner, Virot was providing a time check to cyclist Marcel Queheille when their motorbike veered off the track and crashed into a ravine. Virot fractured his skull and died on his way to hospital; Wagner died in the hospital.

A fuller version of Alex Virot’s story can be read in an article from Eurosport here.

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